Rifka, the teenage protagonist of The Long Trail Home, is rebelling against her parents and the limitations and requirements they have imposed on her. She refuses to have a bat mitzvah, or to have anything to do with the synagogue. In an effort to improve their daughter’s behavior and relationships, her parents send her to Quartz Creek Ranch, a horse camp in Colorado.
Although the young campers don’t know much about horseback riding, the people in charge know a lot about how to deal with troubled teenagers. Focusing on clear communication, consequences for misbehavior, and the structure of chores and riding lessons, Ma Etty, “the best horsewoman in Colorado,” has her work cut out for her.
Rifka’s campmate, Cat, runs away whenever she feels frustrated or rejected. As the story unfolds, we come to understand why she and the other teenagers behave as they do. At the book’s climax, Cat leaves the group while they’re on a camping trip; Rivka feels a commitment to find her, and both girls get lost in unfamiliar territory. What happens next is suspenseful and frightening, calling upon a maturity that Rivka must dig deep to find.
The Long Trail Home deals with important themes such as commitment, loyalty, and courage, as well as immigration issues and the anti-immigrant sentiment the characters experience while at camp. In the small Colorado community where the camp is located, one person has already been badly injured and the town is ready to have a faceoff. A bit of Jewish history is included as well, when Rivka learns, to her surprise, that Jewish pioneers helped settle the western United States.
The book is recommended for ages 9 to 14 and will especially appeal to readers who love stories about horses and horsemanship.